Finding a way when things gang aft agley

It was my birthday two weeks ago and looking back at it now, I could never have predicted how I’d be living and feeling and thinking now. The world, or at least the world I know, has gone into lock down and although the birds are still singing and the trees are budding and things look largely the same, it’s all suddenly different and feels very, very still.

Still in some ways and accelerated in others. No more pubs and gigs and wandering around shops for the hell of it to kill time. Also, no more financial stability and confidence in my understanding of how I make a living and how reliable that feels. And of course, all this “inconvenience” and uncertainty pales into insignificance as three members of my immediate family go into complete isolation for their own safety and I deliver donuts to their front porches hoping that they can somehow feel the hug I want to reach out and give them but can’t.

And while some parts of life are shutting down, others are speeding up as we need to shift and adapt to somehow make this new reality work. I didn’t think I would run online workshops. It wasn’t that I was completely against the idea, more that I had the luxury of not having to think about how I would teach these types of classes in a way that worked for me. As unpredictable as my income is, until about a week ago I was comfortable in my ability to make and sell my artwork and in the demand for my in-person teaching worldwide.

I am now unsure of just about everything.

If necessity is the Mother of invention, then pandemic, self-isolation, and possible impending poverty is the Mother that kicks you up the arse and forces you to make tough choices about what is right for you.

So I asked myself what I wanted and how I can make this work.

Do I want to do online video lessons?


I don’t have the confidence in my tech skills yet, and right now I’m working from a spare room piled up with boxes. Also, I have two young dogs who like to gate crash video chats.

Do I want to do live, interactive demos with real time Q&A?


First of all, see above, and on top of this, all our lives are so unpredictable at the moment that I can’t offer up any particular time slot that would include everyone, and quite frankly I’d rather talk to you all one at a time by email.

What the hell do I want?


To write the sort of lessons I wrote for my workshops here in Glasgow. I bloody loved preparing the “homework” lessons I sent out to all the students who came up here to learn. The idea behind the emailed lessons was to prepare the students to hit the ground running at the workshop rather than have to creatively “warm up” once they arrived. For a month before each workshop I sent out weekly lessons. Each one offered up the methods I use in my own work, in particular working through creative blocks, and finding out what my creative triggers and impulses are. I alternated these lessons with projects that were more practical and hands on so that the students had a balance of creative exploration and structured techniques.

Some students arrived in Glasgow with a sketchbook full of images, a collection of stitched fabric samples, and a box of “treasures” to work with. Once their doll making began in the classroom, I could see when we laid out all of their homework, a complete project from the seeds of ideas through to their finished dolls. Now that some time has passed, and those students send me images of the dolls they’ve made since completing the workshop, I can see how their ideas have moved forward and how confident their work has become.

Development artwork by @sheilaghdysonmixedmediaartist

This, for me is the most enormous bloody privilege and joy.

With this in mind, I’ve written a ten lesson creative doll making course that will focus on free form, intuitive doll making and understanding your creative process.  This is not a step by step instruction manual, and it requires an openness to working in ways that may seem a little bit odd at first…

I never wanted to write a tutorial that was about following my idea or pattern or design. First of all, my ideas, patterns and designs are mine. They are the result of my life, my experience, and to be honest, a lot of happy accidents and failures that I just could not communicate in a lesson if I tried, and what’s more, I don’t want to.

Secondly, for me, it’s just not satisfying to teach people how to do things the way I do them. When I teach, I want to see a student find their own voice and their own way of doing things, and I’ve learned over the last twelve years of teaching that my skills are best directed that way.

Dolls in progress by artist Eleanor Sloan at a workshop in Glasgow in February ’20

So what am I offering you now?

Let’s start with what this course is not.

This is not a course where you will learn how to follow a step by step doll making process. This is not a course where you will work from my (or anyone else’s) designs and patterns. This is not a course that will teach you one method of doll making. This is not a course where you will produce the same result as all the others who are taking the course. You will not be learning how to make a Pale Rook Doll and you will not be learning complex pattern cutting (seriously, pattern cutting is hard, even for those of us who have been taught it, and an online course really isn’t the way to learn it unless it’s by a really skilled pattern cutter who can describe complicated measurements and calculations in writing. I’m not one of those).

What I can teach you is how to find your way of working and to identify what makes you tick.

Which leads me to what this course is.

This is a course where you will be taught to identify your own creative triggers, ideas and impulses and to identify what works for you.  This is a course where you will learn how to design your own style of doll, and to draft and cut your own simple doll pattern that can be adapted, tweaked and developed.  Through this course you will learn how to make a doll that is entirely unique and personal to you.   In this course I will share the methods I use to work through creative blocks and design problems. This is a course where you will build a collection of creative ideas and projects, and by the end of it you’ll have the skills and confidence to develop your own doll designs.  As well as opening up your creative flow, this course will give you the practical skills and tools to create dolls with their own character, style and story.

You’ll receive ten emailed lessons – two lessons each week for five weeks. Some of them are deceptively simple creative warm-ups, and some are detailed, challenging and in depth. The lessons will build up from identifying the very beginnings of your creative thinking – finding the seeds that are worth nurturing, finding the triggers that make you think and feel as an artist, to learning simple, practical doll making skills that can be adapted to your own needs.

What’s the course fee?

Well, that’s up to you. Since we’re living in completely weird times, and this is all new to all of us, I’ve decided to offer this course on a pay-what-you-can basis. You decide how much you can or want to pay. I’m suggesting a minimum of £30 and a maximum of £120. There is no need to justify or explain how much you’d like to pay. I know that for some of you, this is a time of enormous uncertainty so I hope this makes the course more accessible to those who aren’t sure if their future income is secure. Regardless of what you can afford to pay, you’ll receive the same lessons and support as anyone else.

How many places are there?

I’m going to limit the places on the course to the number of students I can comfortably connect with over the duration of the course.  I want to be able to offer one to one email support for those who would like or need it.  I don’t want this to be one of those courses where students are flying solo and the teacher has no real connection with anyone.

If you’d like to register, you can complete the contact form below (registration is currently closed, but will reopen again at 8pm (UK time) on the 26th of April), only your name and email are required, although messages are nice!.  I will email you full terms and conditions, plus a payment link within 24 hours.  The first lesson will be sent out on Monday the 11th of May, and then on every following Thursday and Monday afternoons.

Finally, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of your interest and support.   We are living in strange and frightening times and it’s hard to not feel helpless and overwhelmed, especially when we’re all hyper aware of just how amazing our emergency services, our postal workers, cleaners, shop workers, delivery drivers and many more others are right now.  In times like this (what times have ever been like this?!) I try to find ways to be useful, and I hope that this course is useful to some of you in what ever way, whether it’s creativity and solace during a frightening time, or just something to do while you’re stuck in the house.

I am so grateful to have so much support and connection.

Keep safe and take care for now.

The course is now full, thanks to everyone for your interest. 

40 thoughts on “Finding a way when things gang aft agley

    1. Hi Linda, sorry about that. It seems to be working for half of you and not for the rest. I’ve added your email to the list and I’ll be in touch tomorrow. x

  1. Kia ora Johanna! Barbara here from New Zealand. I don’t see the form at the bottom here, but i did fill one out after following the link below this email where it said….viewed on the website, but after i pressed submit it went to a page that said oops! Page not found. So now I’m confused whether you received my application or not? Can you let me know. Arohanui, B


  2. Hi Johanna – I think I submitted the form! If I didn’t I am really interested.
    Thanks, Deborah

  3. Just sent you an email. I would li!e to attend online course, filled out form, but doesn’t look like it went through, so I emailed you. Thank you

    Les!ie Alt

  4. Hello

    I realise that by now I’m likely to be many thousands down the application list, but I would love to take my place on it – this sounds exciting and stimulating, and with zero ideas beforehand I have no idea where it’ll lead, but I can’t wait (except I’ll have to). If/when I eventually get on to the course, I expect I shall very quickly lag due to other commitments, but hopefully that won’t matter.

    I couldn’t find a form to fill in, so I hope you don’t mind my emailing instead. I’m Karen Mercer, and my email address is, I look forward to hearing something from you in due course.

    Best wishes


  5. It seems your online course is now full – so hope very much you will open another. Please.
    I am very interested in the whole process you out line. I work on my own and am interested in this idea of engaging with others but not being overwhelmed my them.

    Always love your blogs and of course you wonderful dolls.

    Keep being you.

    1. It would be truly lovely to be able to join you on an doll making discovery.
      If in the near future possible.
      Be safe

  6. Knickers. The website was down yesterday and I hoped it might be up today. Now it’s full😣 I do hope you will do another course for those of is who got bumped out. Thanks so much. Stay safe and well. Take care.

  7. Good luck with these courses. It looks like your new teaching idea has chimed with lots of people, which is great for you and great for them. xxxx

  8. I would love to do an online course of yours. Perhaps you could add me to the list please.

  9. Ohhh, missed this and now too late! Is there a waiting list for the next one? Thanks. Nicki

  10. Maby its the same way I work but If not it will Open my mind .Hope to take this course too. Please but me on the list.

  11. Dear Johanna
    Please add me to the waiting list for your wonderful course. Thank you VERY much.

  12. Hello from New Zealand, I missed the sign up. Can I go on to a waiting list? Your introduction really sings about what you will provide as within this our course, much gratitude and with warmth Ann

    1. Hi Ann,

      I don’t have a waiting list for the next one, but will be opening up registration in August. I hope you can make it then.

      Thank you, and take care,

  13. Hi! I’ve missed course opening, so sad. If a spot becomes available, I will gladly attend. thanks, A.

  14. I would love to be on the list for the next email class. Your work is glorious and I would feel honored to be included in one of your classes.

    1. Hi Satisha,

      I’m hoping to run the course again in August or September, I’ll be letting everyone know exact dates via Facebook and Instagram once I have them. I hope you can join me then.


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